Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reminding Us That Sitcoms Can Still Be Fresh, Happy Endings Season 1 Holds Up Uh-MAH-ing-ly Well On DVD!

The Good: Exceptionally funny, Decent characters, Good acting, Standard DVD bonus features
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: Happy Endings roars onto DVD as one of the funniest network comedies in years.

The other day, while most people were watching the Super Bowl, my wife and I were being absolute gluttons and doing a marathon of Happy Endings episodes because she had not yet opened the Complete First Season DVD set I bought for her for our winter holiday celebration. I think that I appreciated Happy Endings Season 1 a bit more the second time through because – in addition to catching three episodes we missed when they originally aired! – I was allowed to relax and enjoy the show. I have a habit of getting attached to television shows that get quickly cancelled. Last year, when Happy Endings first aired, I was feeling the sting of Mr. Sunshine getting canned in favor of this new show (how Allison Janney was not nominated for her role on that is inexplicable to me!) and, frankly, I did not want to get attached to yet another show where I would just get disappointed. So, last Sunday, when we sat and watched Happy Endings Season 1 on DVD, I was able to get to the place my wife has been at for months; simple, pure, immersive enjoyment.

Happy Endings is the new Friends. In the first season of Happy Endings, the show introduces six friends living in Chicago who are figuring out their lives and their relationships within their group and outside it. The basic premise of the show is that Dave and Alex were supposed to get married when a man skates in and whisks Alex away. Following the fall-out from that, the group tries to recover and stick together, especially as Alex and Dave try to remain friends. While Happy Endings might initially seem like a very typical sitcom – “shut your filthy whore mouth!” – it plays out as smart, funny and with characters who quickly become annoyingly endearing.

Following their disastrous attempt to marry, tensions are high among the friends (and relatives) of Alex and Dave. Dave moves in with Max and discovers himself in an odd actual relationship when he tries to be a good guy following a one-night stand. Able to extricate himself from that relationship, he is troubled when others in the group characterize him as a zombie. So, while Jane and Max duke it out in a contest to see which would survive a zombie apocalypse better, Dave quits his job and buys a steak truck. While Dave continues to date, Max and Penny try to find relationships of their own and Jane and Brad try to keep their relationship together, without ending up with swingers!

On the Alex front, she does not date as much as Dave does and is, in fact, disgusted by how fast he moves on to sex with other women, despite their lingering feelings for one another. She is compassionate and regrets running out on Dave and even accepts that she is not ready to have her tattoo of his name removed when Dave tries to have his lasered off. She puts Max’s attempt to find love with the owner of a new coffee shop over her economic interests when she tries to take a stand as a small business owner. And the whole gang ends up attending a wedding of an old friend who makes the single four wonder if they will ever find true love!

Of course, as a sitcom, Happy Endings is not so much about what happens in each episode, as it is about the characters interacting and the quality of the funny lines. For that, Happy Endings Season 1 is a rousing success. The lines are hilarious and they hold up very well over multiple viewings. In addition to attempts by the characters to make their own catchphrases – Brad earns some real points for getting “chicksand” to catch on! – the dialogue is filled with fast back and forths that actually improve with more than one viewing. The characters are actually pretty smart (emotionally dumb, frequently, but intelligent), so the first season of Happy Endings has decent diction, psychologically interesting situations and characters and situations that step nicely into zany without seeming utterly unrealistic. So, for example, one episode finds Max and Dave troubled to discover there is an artist living in their ceiling! But more than that simple and silly premise, Happy Endings works because it complicates the premise by having Penny and Alex meet the artist by chance and Alex and the ceiling man plan a date before the truth can come out!

But, like all great television, Happy Endings hinges on having interesting and memorable characters. In the first season, the primary characters of Happy Endings are:

Alex Kerkovich – Jane’s sister, she gets the jitters and runs out on her wedding. When she returns to Chicago a week later, she attempts to remain friends with Dave. She has a troubling knack for picking a terrible roommate (because of how impulsive she is), runs her own boutique clothing store, and accidentally steals the thunder from Jane on any project they attempt together. She has a love of ribs, is slow to date again and still has some emotional attachment to Dave beyond simple friendship,

Jane Williams – Wife of Brad, sister of Alex. She is an uptight, efficient woman who tries to keep the spark in her marriage to Brad lit. She is mortified when it turns out Max was not legally ordained when the pair was married and she tries to get Brad to open up with his father about his feelings. She nearly buries Max in a contest about who would survive the zombie apocalypse and nearly kills Penny when the two take martial arts classes together and Jane’s serious side comes out. Rather surprisingly, she volunteers to help fight adult illiteracy,

Penny Hartz – The scatterbrained, emotional friend, she is utterly unlucky in love. Upset by how Max doesn’t “act gay,” she takes to a stereotypical gay man until she realizes it is way too much work. She dates a hipster, falls for an amazing guy whose last name (unfortunately) happens to be Hitler, and she discovers she speaks fluent Italian only when she is completely drunk. She is initially irked by the activities she and Alex go out to following Alex’s sudden change in relationship status. She was Max’s beard with his parents for years,

Brad Williams – Husband of Jane. He gets in trouble with Max when he sets Max up with a guy whom he learns is gay, but seemingly has nothing else in common with Max. A businessman, he is alarmed when his attempt to make friends outside their narrow circle leads him and Jane to swinger coworkers of his. He is upset when his father comes to town and Brad accidentally provokes a heart attack by telling his father he loves him. He puts up with Jane’s competitive nature and tries not to kill Dave’s dreams,

Max Blum – The deeply sarcastic best friend of Dave and a slob. Defying virtually every stereotype about being gay, Max reluctantly comes out to his parents and doesn’t pursue getting a job this season. He hangs out, has fun and even falls for the cute owner of a new chain of coffee shops, much to his disgust for their commercialism. He also sniffs out boyfriends’ of Penny who may or may not actually be gay (he has a terrible gaydar!),

and Dave Rose – The ex-fiancée of Alex, his first date after the messy break up turns out to be a high school girl with a “Stay Grounded” tramp stamp tattoo. He moves in with Max, quits his job, dates a lot and buys a steak truck. In trying to compete in Chicago’s tough food truck industry, he reconnects with a beloved professor of his and is deeply hurt when his professor flakes out on him.

Happy Endings is served by an amazing cast. As much as I enjoy the crassness of my weekly 2 Broke Girls fix, I can completely acknowledge that the performers in it are not the best actors. For all my appreciation of Kat Dennings, far too often on 2 Broke Girls she laughs at her own jokes and it is clear she is having way more fun than her dour character is supposed to. No such weakness on Happy Endings. Like the Friends cast before them, the Happy Endings cast comes with a few known quantities, namely Elisha Cuthbert (though her roots seem to be more in drama) and Damon Wayans Jr. (who might have been living in his father’s shadow before this, but steps right out). Happy Endings also has Eliza Coupe, who many people know from Scrubs. As I was not a watcher of that, Happy Endings was how I got to know her and she is excellent as Jane. Zachary Knighton (Dave), Adam Pally (Max) and Casey Wilson (Penny) round out the Happy Endings cast and they are vital, fresh and fun. Wilson especially sparkles as the energetic, ridiculous and frequently-emotionally stupid Penny. She is a lot of fun to watch and the whole cast plays off one another incredibly well, promising a reasonably good future for the show.

On DVD, Happy Endings comes with the pretty standard bonus features for this type of show. There are deleted scenes, gag reels and a few featurettes, mostly promoting the first season of the show. They are good, but I would have liked some commentary tracks or additional bonus features, considering how expensive this thirteen-episode two-disc set was initially.

Happy Endings is consistently funny and the first season, while not flawless, is solidly above the curve. If we had to get a “new Friends” (especially this soon), it’s nice to see a network trying as hard as it is with Happy Endings. If you haven’t found the show yet, pick up the DVD set; you’ll be glad you did!

For other worthwhile comedy shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
30 Rock - Season 1
The Big Bang Theory - Season 4


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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